Is There a Case for Teaching About Critical Race Theory?
I have been skeptical about the value of teaching students about Critical Race Theory (CRT), especially in K-12. However, a recent discussion with a colleague opened my eyes about what CRT means in the context of education. It’s clear to me there is a lot of misinformation out there and that is fueling the divide in our country between those who support teaching CRT in some form or another and those [vehemently] against it. She believes that it’s necessary to provide Americans with a new perspective on race in America. My goal is to contribute to the conversation.
In a broad sense, CRT holds that there is systemic and institutional racism in America. This manifests itself in lack of equal access for Blacks to a quality education, red-lining policies in housing, unequal treatment under the law, and police overreach in dealing with Black Americans including stopping them in their automobiles more frequently than whites and often for no good reason. In addition, Black Americans, especially teenagers and young adults, are stopped and questioned in the street more frequently than their white counterparts and, it is argued, this occurs because of the systemic racism.
Blacks often feel marginalized by those in power, or so it is argued. They need to be able to relate better to the literature and history taught in our schools, which is one reason for the increased availability of Ethnic Studies curricula in colleges and universities. CRT is not designed to teach about hating America but what the connection of Black Americans is to it.
Those who support teaching about CRT argue that CRT is not an ideology. It doesn’t assign moral fault based on anyone’s race. Instead, it helps us to understand why inequities exist. Consider the following.
- CRT gives voice to the voiceless by bringing in broader experiences to better understand race in America.
- Discussions about racism round out the character of America and shine a bright light on its social, educational, economic, and political biases against Black Americans.
- Both Black and White Americans need to learn how to have productive conversations about race in America and CRT provides one perspective.
- Black students need to consider how they view themselves in America to better understand the barriers to equal educational opportunity and success.
Those against teaching CRT, especially in K-12, point out by claiming racism is systemic and institutionalized, CRT divides people into two camps: the oppressed and the oppressors. This is counter-productive to the goals of education, which are to stimulate a dialogue about race in America, not to demonize one group or the other.
We need to learn to have conversations about hard issues without assessing blame. Critics argue CRT does assign blame to white America. Supporters of CRT argue this is an overreach because CRT is designed to change the nature of the conversation to talk about why the racial divide exists – has existed – for so many years.
Some have argued that CRT has been weaponized meaning it could incite violence and strong criticism by those who are against it. They see the teaching of CRT as an attack on “their” America. And that’s partly where the problem lies. Historically, Americans have been taught that we’re all the same regardless of race if we share the predominant white view of what America is all about and the values that drive it.
I’ve learned from my colleague that teaching about CRT is not a zero-sum game where if we allow more voices to be heard, more will be silent. In fact, teaching about the tenets of CRT should stimulate a open and honest discussion about the racial divide in America, not silence voices who fail to recognize it still exists today.
I can’t say I still am against CRT, but I will say there are good reasons not to fear it. Like most things, the devil is in the details. It may take one academic year to truly understand its benefits and shortcomings. So next year if we have this conversation again, we’ll have more evidence to rationally evaluate the teaching of CRT.
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Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on July 27, 2021. Steve is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.